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Notts County 2016-17 Squad Analysis

With just two days to until the 2016-17 League Two season gets underway, Rob Davies has produced an extensive analysis of the Notts County squad which will be in contention for the first fixture against Yeovil Town on Saturday.

The sensible, no-nonsense approach of John Sheridan has been typified by a summer of transfer activity that seems to have been led by something badly missing from Meadow Lane before his arrival – logic.

Sheridan has ‘only’ made seven permanent signings this summer, just a third of the number of new additions that arrived at Meadow Lane last summer. But all seven arrive with strong pedigree. And all seven would go into the starting XI when fit and possess strong experience at this level.

Aged 25-31, they all possess the right kind of ‘experience’ too, with plenty still to offer the cause beyond this season.

Assuming no further new players arrive and one of the new additions, Michael O’Connor, remains sidelined through injury, Sheridan’s team for the opener at Yeovil Town seems to be a fairly easy one to predict:


Audel Duffy Hollis
Hewitt Rodman Tootle Dickinson
Stead Forte


Many, rightly, will highlight the lack of depth as a factor here, something which was evident in the recent friendly with Walsall when the Magpies conceded two late goals after a raft of substitutions. However, for me it is a refreshing to see a logical approach to pre-season, with combinations and systems being worked on to prepare and build for the season ahead. 

Think back to last season, when the most commonly used defensive pairing in pre-season – Alan Smith and Scot Bennett – never once played together competitively, and the defensive duo that did start the season, Thierry Audel and Civard Sprockel, were both signed days before the season, seemingly in a state of panic. 

Things seem calmer now, with an experienced manager having a clear idea of the way he wants to play and sole control over transfers. Long may it continue.

That squad in more detail:


Few would’ve expected Sheridan’s first signing to be a keeper, with Scott Loach more than capable at this level. However, Adam Collin is a commanding presence and an undoubtedly impressive addition – he was Rotherham’s first choice for their promotion to the Championship and throughout their first season in the second tier, only losing his place last season. 

Loach will have to decide whether he is again content with starting the season as one of the strongest understudies in League Two. If he leaves, reinforcements will undoubtedly be needed, with Kevin Pilkington – third choice during the title-winning season six years ago – now 42. The lack of the option to dip into the short-term loan market would also be a factor here if this scenario did arise.


With Sheridan looking certain to start the season with a back three, at least one new centre-back is a must – primarily because the club only has four senior centre backs, one of which is a player who was signed in ‘an emergency’ capacity two years ago. 

Richard Duffy looks a strong addition, though at 5’11” is a little on the short side for a centre back, but it’s the presence of Haydn Hollis and Audel in the starting XI that will worry many supporters. Both have enjoyed strong pre-seasons but will need to convince they have the consistency to be relied upon every week. It really is now or never for Hollis.

When O’Connor returns to fitness, this could have the knock-on effect of pushing Matt Tootle wide and Elliott Hewitt centrally into the back three; it was at centre back where the former Ipswich player was at his best in a poor first season. Similarly, Dickinson is equally capable at the heart of the defence and would arguably be more suited to the left-sided centre back role than the wing back spot he currently occupies.


Audel, Jack Barmby and Scot Bennett were amongst the players to start at left-back last season; the arrival of Dickinson is welcomed with open arms. The no-nonsense full-back is vastly experienced having played regularly for Stoke, Watford and Portsmouth in the Championship before captaining Port Vale, but is still only 29. Looks to be the captain-elect, but the first-choice cover behind him appears to be Rob Milsom, who is predictably injured currently. Youngster Rhys Sharpe was a Guy Branston signing but still looks raw in the pre-season games.

On the other flank, Tootle is another full-back who is better defensively which doesn’t really lend itself to the 3-5-2 system. Hewitt would appear tailor-made for the wing back role in which he’s likely to start the season, but will need to iron out the positional lapses which cost the team a number of goals last campaign. Jordan Richards is another option down the right following hugely promising loan spells with Boston and in Ireland last year.


When everyone is fit, Sheridan is blessed with options here with O’Connor, Tootle, Alex Rodman, Stanley Aborah, Curtis Thompson, Milsom, Graham Burke, Wes Atkinson, Richards and, of course, Alan Smith (he’ll inevitably be back in the team at some stage) all vying for three places. 

The decision to move Aborah into a more advanced position looks to be a masterstroke; if he is out, it is also a position that Burke has the potential to excel in. That leaves a number of players vying for the two deeper positions – Rodman is primarily a winger or attacking midfielder but has looked capable in a more defensive position, as has Tootle who has spent most of his career at right back. O’Connor is a certain starter when fit and I still have high hopes for Thompson; midfield is an area we really shouldn’t be worrying about.


The blank numbers #9 and #10 on the original squad numbers list got tongues wagging that this meant at least one more first-team striker was on his way to Meadow Lane, but I feel this is more of an anomaly, with Jon Stead preferring #30 and Jonathan Forte #11. These two represent a strong-looking first-choice front two, with newly-signed York City loanee Vadaine Oliver – a physical presence – likely to start as ‘Plan B’ from the bench. 

Izale McLeod is still at the club, of course, and it’d be dangerous to write off a proven striker on the back of one bad season, but if a suitor could be found it’d be hard to justify keeping one of the highest-paid players at the club as fourth choice striker, when the money could be invested elsewhere.

Adam Campbell and Genaro Snijders are both likeable players but look vulnerable if the decision to play without wingers becomes a permanent one. Campbell managed to convince all three managers that he should be a regular last season, but desperately needs an end product to go with his endeavour, while Snijders has said end product but never seemed to be given much of a chance. It’ll be interesting to see if they can play their way into contention this time around; Sheridan stressed the desire in pre-season to get some pace in the ranks and this does still appear to be lacking, so these two could still have a role to play.


This squad isn’t yet the finished product, but it is worlds apart from last season’s approach where going into the season there only looked to be 4-5 guaranteed starters, the captain wasn’t decided and players were in the team one week and not in the squad the next.

The key area is still the defence; Audel seems to switch between being brilliant or terrible, often in the same game, while Hollis finally needs to iron-out the mental blocks and inconsistencies that have prevented him kicking-on with his career. Edwards and Smith are next in-line. If Edwards is the no.1 centre back by mid-September – as was the case last season – something has gone drastically wrong.

As supporters, it’s important to put last year’s debacle behind us and give the likes of Stead, Hewitt and Hollis a chance to right the wrongs. It was never plausible – or sensible – to ditch all of last season’s under-performers. One thing’s for sure, we’re in much better shape this time around. In Sheridan we trust.

Strongest squad: 

Hewitt Duffy Hollis
Tootle Rodman O’Connor Dickinson
Stead    Forte

Subs: Loach, Audel, Thompson, Milsom/Campbell, Burke, Snijders, Oliver.

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